— RESTAURANTS IN ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA — The food scene in St Petersburg is thriving. Once overlooked in favor of Florida’s larger cities—Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, St. Pete has come into its own. Over the last 15 years, chef-driven restaurants have raised the city’s reputation. People took notice, and a few years ago, USA Today named St. Pete as one of the top five underrated food cities on the east coast.
Because St. Pete is a coastal city, fresh seafood abounds. That said, you’ll find a variety of ethnic restaurants, upscale steak houses, and casual places that offer everything from barbecue and beer to vegan bites and kombucha.
As relatively new residents of St. Petersburg, my husband and I have been checking out restaurants. While this is by no means a complete list, these are some of our favorites. The next time you’re in town, stop in and enjoy some of them.
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There are more restaurants in St. Petersburg than I could ever cover in this article.~Chris Cutler
1. The Library
Fashioned after the George Peabody Library, The Library brings breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch to the campus of Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital. The library-inspired restaurant is classy and upscale while being comfortable and cozy. It offers what they call a “reprieve from daily chaos.”
The Library’s coffee bar opens at 9 am and offers counter service only. Choose from a variety of pastries while enjoying your coffee or tea.
The lunch menu, available from 11 am until 4 pm, includes small plates, sandwiches, salads, and more. The dinner menu includes many of the same offerings with the addition of entrees, some of which are simply protein.
We had a hard time deciding but ultimately shared the Steak Sandwich and a house salad. The sandwich, which comes with fries, contains shaved sirloin, roasted peppers, cheese, secret Peabody sauce, and crispy onions, which add a nice crunch.
Our favorite time to go is for weekend brunch. While some of the salads and sandwiches are on that menu, the addition of breakfast (eggs, pancakes, French toast) and brunch classics (Benedict, omelets, bagels, and lox) is a hit. If you go, try the Mimosa made with freshly squeezed local orange juice.
The Library has vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
2. The Left Bank Bistro
Experience a little bit of Paris on the Florida coast when you head to The Left Bank Bistro. The restaurant draws its inspiration from the La Rive Gauche (the left bank), the artistic part of Paris, and home to Matisse, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin, among others. The Left Bank offers their “…tip of the hat to the days of Jazz and Champagne.”
Occupying a 1920s house close to Downtown St. Pete, The Left Bank Bistro has indoor and patio seating. Cozy and comfortable, the indoors has a variety of soft and wood seating while the outdoors resembles the cafe tables that dot cafes in Paris. Interestingly, the tops of the indoor tables were once beams of the old house.
The menu, as one would expect, features French-style fare. Everything from French Onion Soup and Salad Niçoise to Coq Au Vin and Boeuf Bourguignon will transport you back to Paris. Not interested in meat? Try the Bouillabaisse or Zucchini Roulade.
Weekend Brunch offerings include some of the lunch and dinner items with the addition of classic sweet and savory brunch items. The Pain Perdu, aka French Toast, is the best I have ever eaten. Made with battered brioche, fresh berries, and Chantilly cream, the Left Bank chefs finish it with a Grand Marnier Brulee.
I’m Italian, and I am very picky about Italian food. Lucky for me, I live a few miles from
Mazzaro’s Italian Market, a little bit of Sicily in St. Pete.
Mazzaro’s is more of a market than a restaurant. As the go-to place for everything Italian, it offers fresh-baked bread and pastries, fresh meat and produce, cheese, handmade pasta, beer, wine, gourmet coffee, and more. Sitting in the middle of the large market are their deli and coffee bar.
The deli offers 27 hot or cold sandwiches. The Hot (both in temperature and taste) Italian is ham, pepperoni, salami, provolone, banana peppers, and lettuce on their own bread. The Meatballs With Sauce and Provolone, the Eggplant Parmesan, and the Italian Roasted Pork take me back to my childhood.
Mazzaro’s offers a weekly hot sandwich special, a panini of the day, and a variety of cold salads, all at a reasonable price. Once you choose something to eat, stop at the bakery to pick up a cannoli, eclair, biscotti, or mini-pie as a sweet ending for your meal. Pay for your food, and head to their outdoor tables to enjoy.
4. Oak & Stone
While we’re talking Italian, let’s talk pizza. I am a pizza snob. I like a thin crust that is chewy (not gummy) and flavorful (not bland). The sauce should taste more of tomato than garlic, and there should be enough of it and the toppings to enhance the crust. For a chain restaurant, Oak & Stone ticks all of my boxes.
You’ll find 12 custom-craft pizzas on the menu. They offer a Classic (sauce, cheese, and basil) and All The Way (sauce, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, black olives, mozzarella, and Parmesan) as well as Pepperoni which includes both crispy and diced pepperoni.
For something very different, order the house-roasted pork, BBQ sauce, cheddar, roasted corn, red onion, cilantro, and ranch dressing. The Popeye is a Classic with the addition of spinach, roasted red peppers, ricotta, and prosciutto.
Not sure about any of those? Build your own pies. Start with the basic crust and mozzarella, and choose your sauce (red, garlic, herbed oil) and any number of toppings that include everything from a variety of cheeses, vegetables, and proteins.
If you are not into pizza, you will find a variety of salads, sandwiches, bowls, and appetizers on the menu. Beer lovers will love Oak & Stone’s self-serve brew wall. Choose from more than 25 brews you pour by the ounce. Simply get an RFID bracelet from your server (restrictions apply), cruise the brew wall, and pour.
Oak & Stone sits on the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street South, so it’s a great place to sit outside and watch the downtown world go by.
PRO TIP: Their pizza crust is so good, and they offer a variety of dips—ginger, ranch, hot wing, honey mustard, etc.—to finish them.
5. Keegan’s Seafood Grille
If you want good seafood, drive to Keegan’s in Indian Rocks Beach. Since 1985, it’s been a favorite of both locals and visitors.
The menu is heavy on fresh seafood offerings that include many fish offerings as well as she-crab soup (a favorite that is creamy and full of crab), conch, crab cakes, and peel-n-eat shrimp. The more adventurous might try the Louisiana Bayou blackened gator tail, an offering that lives up to Keegan’s “Eat Fresh and Eat Wild” motto.
If your tastes run more to land than sea, Keegan’s offers entrees that feature chicken, beef, and pork. Pasta dishes can include shrimp, clams, or mussels.
This casual and funky restaurant’s menu intrigued Food Network star Guy Fieri. He featured Keegan’s on an episode Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
You may wonder if alligator was the thing that Guy Fieri found interesting. No. It wasn’t the grouper, which Keegan’s offers three ways (grilled, fried, or buffalo style), either. It was the octopus that caught Guy’s attention. Octopus also served three ways, is the most popular item on the menu.
I’m not a fan of octopus, but the manager told me that Keegan’s is meaty and has a delicate taste. Instead of being rubbery, the manager told me it is so “…tender it practically melts in your mouth.” Because Guy tried the charbroiled version, that’s what most people order.
PRO TIP: Keegan’s vegetarian offerings include Linguini Primavera and black bean burgers.
6. Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro
Located on the waterfront, Fresco’s is in the heart of Downtown St. Pete. The coastal vibe resonates throughout this casual restaurant on St. Pete Marina, making it a fantastic place to sit back, relax, and enjoy the views.
The menu, as you would expect, focuses on seafood. You can order grouper, which is a St. Pete specialty, as an appetizer, in a sandwich, or in tacos. Poke, ceviche, ahi tuna, and mussels appear in a variety of dishes, as do salmon, snapper, and lobster. Personally, I am a fan of the hot lobster roll, just lobster and butter on a Hawaiian roll.
If you don’t like fish, they offer pastas, salads, and bowls without seafood. You can also find hamburgers, chicken, and steak on the menu.
During the season, Fresco’s does not take reservations, so get there early.
7. The Hangar
The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge sits next to the runway of the Alfred Whitted Airport in Downtown St. Pete. From its position on the second floor of the airport terminal, the Hangar offers great views of small planes and helicopters that take off and land at Whitted.
The menu features a variety of dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all items are available all day. I prefer the First Class breakfast (steak eggs, home fries, and toast) or the Piper omelette (eggs, avocado, tomato, and goat cheese) even at dinner. There is a reason they won Best of the Bay Breakfast.
The Hangar has live music nightly from about 6 pm until 9 pm, with Mondays being Jazz Jam. All-day Wednesday, you can enjoy burgers for $6, and there’s a daily happy hour from 3-6 pm.
Airplane memorabilia decorate the restaurant, and the floor-to-ceiling windows make you feel outside. That said, if the weather is good, sit outside on the patio for the best view of the airport.
One of the best steaks I ever had was at an Argentine restaurant, so when I saw we lived a few blocks from Renzo’s, I had to try it. In addition to the St. Petersburg restaurant, Renzo’s has two other locations in the Bay Area.
Renzo’s offers hand-cut steaks that they grill-to-order. If you are hungry, try the Parrilla, 28 ounces of meat or seafood grilled to order. While Renzo’s menu celebrates red meat, you’ll also find chicken, fish, pasta, and pork entrees. In addition, the sides are typical of South America—yucca fries, tostones, maduros, rice, beans, and more. Likewise, the desserts feather South American sweets—coconut biensamabe, chajá, and flan.
There is some outdoor seating (on the sidewalk) at Renzo’s St. Pete location, but I like the indoor seating better. It’s casual and comfortable and sitting where you can see the kitchen area is fun.
PRO TIP: I am a big fan of the steak salad, consisting of greens, egg, almonds, bacon, and an eight-ounce sirloin.
Once rundown and pretty much abandoned, Central Avenue in Downtown St. Pete has come back and is now full of interesting and diverse restaurants. Tropez, a relative newcomer to the food scene, calls itself “…an entertaining neighborhood spot with an extensive menu made for sharing.” The Tropez menu features plates from all around the world but with a Tropez twist.
The outdoors is mostly nondescript, but once you walk in, you’re surrounded by a chic and inviting interior. The chairs and tables are comfortable, and the wall of oxidized copper (No, it is not faux painting!) is simply beautiful.
Tropez’s menu is full of plates meant for sharing. The Mediterranean Sampler contains a mix of hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush, and cucumber raita, Jamon con Dates, and Patatas Bravas. If you’ve ever had stuffed dates, you know that they are a marriage of sweet and salty. Most restaurants stuff dates with almonds and bleu cheese and wrap them in bacon. Tropez uses smoked almonds and bleu cheese and wraps them in Serrano ham, making them less greasy than the bacon-wrapped variety.
Another great item to share is the Brunch Board. It contains bagel chips, mini pancakes, soft-boiled eggs, chorizo sausage, bacon, cream cheese, nuts, berries, and more. The Charcuterie Board—four meats, four cheese, crusty bread, and more—is a good mix of flavors and textures.
Next time I stop in for brunch, I’m going to try the Baklava Pancakes—buttermilk-walnut pancakes topped with pistachio streusel, whipped honey ricotta, and mint-infused maple syrup. It just sounds exotic.
If you are looking for interesting twists to classic dishes, head to Tropez.
One of the best things about the St. Pete food scene is that there are so many places that offer food made fresh. Cali, part of the Ciccio Restaurant Group (CRG), is one of those places. Located on the corner of a large shopping plaza, Cali has a menu that will appeal to almost all tastes at any hour of the day.
The restaurant is casual and comfortable, and it can get crowded. The menu includes bowls, tacos, wraps, munchies, and pizzas, with breakfast items on weekends. The menu has changed slightly since my last visit, but I’m very interested in trying two items in particular.
The Hot Honey Pizza is a crust topped with sauce, pepperoni, mozzarella, and basil and finished with hot honey. The menu indicates that it is hot, as in spicy, so I’m not quite sure I’d like it. It is intriguing, though.
The Amalfi Pizza is a dairy-free, plant-based pizza. With an almond-ricotta base, it has charred grape tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, and a tomato drizzle on a garlic oil-herb crust. Since I’m allergic to garlic, I’ll ask for a regular crust to try it.
Cali is eco-conscious, and you’ll find they use eco-friendly cleaning supplies, wear clothes sourced from eco-conscious apparel companies, and serve sustainably sourced, antibiotic/hormone-free proteins. In addition, they are community-oriented and donate five percent of their profits to community organizations, host five beach clean-ups annually in the Bay Area, and partner with environmental organizations.
There are more restaurants in St. Petersburg than I could ever cover in this article, and I’ve really only talked about a few. Others I would suggest trying are Three Birds Tavern, Gratzzi, The Mill, Il Ritorno, Maple Street Biscuit Company, Rococco, The Bier Boutique, and Fado.
*Opening photo ©Chris Cutler
More Help Planning Your St. Petersburg Escape
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- Visit St. Pete/Clearwater